Spurs-Lakers series breakdown
No. 3 Spurs vs. No. 1 Lakers
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Nov. 13 -- Spurs 107, Lakers 92: Tony Parker had 26 points and nine assists as the host Spurs overcame an off night by Tim Duncan (five points, five boards) to roll to the early-season victory. Bruce Bowen added 23 points for San Antonio, which hit 13-of-27 from three-point range. Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles with 18 points.
Dec. 13 -- Lakers 102, Spurs 97: The Lakers took advantage of the absences of the injured Duncan and Parker to win in L.A. Bryant had 30 points and seven assists, and Lamar Odom added 15 points and eight boards. Bowen's 22 points paced the Spurs.
Jan. 23 -- Spurs 103, Lakers 91: Duncan had 28 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit for the home victory. Ime Udoka added a season-high 18 points, and Manu Ginobili contributed 12 points and eight steals. Kobe had 29 points and 12 boards.
April 13 -- Lakers 106, Spurs 85: In the only meeting after the Pau Gasol trade, Kobe scored 20 points in three quarters before sitting for good as the Lakers cruised past the Ginobili-less Spurs in L.A. Gasol added 14 points and 11 boards for the Lakers. Duncan finished with 16 and 12.
The Skinny: The NBA's two most dominant teams of the decade meet in the postseason for the sixth time in 10 years, this time for the Western Conference title. The Lakers, winners of NBA crowns in 2000, '01 and '02, are making their first trip to the Western finals since 2004. The Spurs, champions in '99, '03, '05 and '07, are back on this stage for the fourth time in six years.
The series pits Lakers superstar and MVP Bryant against Duncan and a Spurs team seeking to repeat as NBA champs, which has never been done in franchise history. Both stars get help from two All-Star-caliber teammates (Gasol, Odom for the Lakers; Parker, Ginobili for the Spurs), as well as supporting players who know their roles. San Antonio and L.A. are also well-coached, solid defensive clubs that seldom beat themselves.
Both teams enter the series riding high. The Lakers are an NBA-best 8-2 in the postseason, sweeping the Nuggets in the first round before eliminating the Jazz in six games in Round 2. The Spurs (8-4) needed five games to get past the Suns in the first round and seven to escape the Hornets in the conference semis. They showed their championship mettle in claiming a decisive Game 7 in New Orleans.
With both teams boasting first-rate trios, the series could come down to the role players. L.A.'s cast, led by Derek Fisher, Vladimir Radmanovic and the Bench Mob (see below), is for the most part younger and quicker than San Antonio's collection of Bowen, Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto, Robert Horry and Kurt Thomas. The Lakers' group should be able to bring more firepower and energy, though several still have to prove they can make shots when it counts. The Spurs don't have that problem. But the Lakers' ability to get scoring from more players, their length around the basket and the home-court advantage give them three reasons (along with Kobe) to feel good about their chances -- at least on paper.
Key Matchup: Duncan vs. Gasol
Though Parker and/or Ginobili often carry the load, Duncan is still the main cog for the Spurs. His ability to draw double teams in the low post and lure defenders out on the pick-and-roll is what enables those other two to do their thing. Duncan also remains the anchor for San Antonio's defense. But Duncan struggled offensively against the Hornets (15.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting) in the last series and was outplayed in several games by David West. It looks as if the two-time MVP might be losing steam after battling the likes of Amaré Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal and West over the last two rounds.
Duncan will need to pick it up against Gasol, who has blended seamlessly into L.A.'s attack with his passing and shooting skills. The 7-foot Spaniard also has become a big factor defensively, joining with the 6-10 Odom to give the Lakers two long-armed defenders to protect the rim. The Spurs will try to use Duncan's strength to his advantage, and perhaps put Gasol and Odom in foul trouble. Gasol doesn't have to win this matchup, but if he can just stay on the floor and keep Duncan from going crazy, it should be enough for the Lakers.
X-Factor for Spurs: Parker
After going up against Chris Paul in the last series, Parker should feel like a cat that's been let out of its cage. A devastating finisher, Parker will use his quickness against the 33-year-old Fisher to get into the paint and create offense. But can he make enough shots inside against all those long Lakers defenders? If Parker doesn't have a huge series, either with points or assists, the Spurs will be in trouble.
X-Factor for Lakers: Bench Mob
Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf and Jordan Farmar might not be household names, but they have played a significant role in the Lakers' success this season. With the Spurs' supporting cast looking old and slow, the Bench Mob has an opportunity to come in and make a huge impact with their younger legs and energy. They also could get a boost from the return of Trevor Ariza, who has been out since January with a foot injury.
The Pick: It's always tough to go against the Spurs and their Big Three. But Duncan appears to be wearing down, and the supporting cast has lost a step. Kobe and Phil Jackson will find a way to exploit it.